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an illustration of the Aaron Burr trial for treason.
figure 1  


turn dog. (verb) To betray someone or inform on them.reference 1

As faithful as dogs are supposed to be, they appear to be quite unreliable as well. Betraying someone seems even worse than biting the hand that feeds you; it suggests something fundamental.

This is more common in British or Australian contexts than it is in the U.S.  The meaning is well illustrated, in fact, in an Australian novel, The Landtakers.  “‘Don’t turn dog on me, Em. I stood up for you before, I’m not asking much now.’ ‘I don’t trust you an inch, Joe Gursey,’ Emma said quietly.”reference 2 Without even knowing the backstory, we catch Joe’s meaning and his own backbiting personality.

turn cur. To become a police informant.reference 3

1. The Oxford English Dictionary Online. 2005. 3d ed. Accessed from http://

2. Penton, Brian. 1935. Landtakers: the Story of an Epoch. New York: Farrar & Rinehart.

3. Haber, Tom Burns. 1965. Canine Terms Applied to Human Beings and Human Events: Part II. American Speech 40 (4): 267.

About the illustration: Aaron Burr is probably the most famous traitor in US history, despite the fact that he was acquitted at trial. As one of the so-called Founding Fathers, his conspiracy against the young nation was viewed as especially treacherous. Burr has likely been referred to as a dog, and it’s probably happened more than once. Figure 1 is a lithograph from Burr's trial and is copyrighted by the Granger Collection in N.Y. This image is copyrighted and unlicensed. I believe that the use of this scaled-down, low-resolution portion of an image to illustrate the article “turn dog” qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law.
see also: bite the hand that feeds one
man's best friend
Last updated: April 16, 2008
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